In the debate over Confederate symbols in the United States, the 10 army bases named after Confederate generals who fought for the South during the Civil War have largely escaped scrutiny.
As a former journalist and current journalism professor, I wondered why the media mostly ignored this story of military installations that still bear the names of those who fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy. .
Working for a newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia 37 years ago, I covered an event where nearly 30,000 Boy Scouts from across the country converged on Fort AP Hill, about 80 miles south of Washington, DC, for a week of camaraderie and fun. It was the 1981 Boy Scout Jamboree, and the theme that year was “Scouting’s Reunion with History”.
Looking back, I feel more than a touch of regret: I missed the real story of the Jamboree. This story was all about the story.
Ambrose Powell Hill Jr. was a Confederate general who died in battle at Petersburg, Virginia, south of Richmond, in 1865. Prior to the Civil War, he was in the United States Army. But as Virginia broke away from the Union, Hill resigned and joined efforts to defend the Confederate States of America.
I wonder if the Boy Scouts of 81 knew that their Jamboree was being held at a military base named after a man who, in fact, fought to defend slavery.
This is the story I should have written.
Virginia has three of the 10 military installations named after the Confederates. Louisiana and Georgia each have two. Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas each have one.
The bases are named after such figures as Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who commanded the Confederate Army; Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard of Louisiana, whose troops bombarded Fort Sumter in South Carolina on April 12, 1861, triggering the Civil War; and John Brown Gordon of Georgia, who historians say was a leader of the Ku Klux Klan after the war.
Four of the bases were established at the start of World War I and the others at the start of World War II, at a time when the military was in recruiting mode and attracted young white men from the South. It was a time when the southern states promoted the “lost cause” ideology: that the Confederacy rebellion was an honorable struggle for the southern way of life, and that the “war of aggression in the South. North ”was about state rights, not slavery. From their perspective at the time, commemorating Confederate generals seemed reasonable.
Army officials said they named the bases in a spirit of reconciliation, not division. They viewed the Confederate generals as tragic heroes, not traitorous racists.
The lost cause ideology, which portrays slaves as happy and their owners as benevolent, has been completely discredited. In recent years, communities across the United States have questioned, if not dismantled, statues and other symbols commemorating Confederation.
While such efforts have focused on local landmarks, I think an even stronger argument could be made for renaming the national symbols that evoke Confederation. Soldiers of various races and ethnicities are stationed at army bases. For decades, defense officials have spoken forcefully against racial intolerance.
Some members of Congress want to rename military installations. Legislation tabled in August 2017 by U.S. Representative Yvette Clarke, DN.Y., would require the Department of Defense to rename any military property “that currently bears the name of anyone who took up arms against the United States during the war. of Secession ”.
Clarke’s proposal has been dragging on for a year in a congressional subcommittee.
If my journalism students could time travel to the 1981 National Scout Jamboree, I hope they would follow the Boy Scout motto of “prepare”. I want them to be prepared to ask questions about how a US Army base was named in honor of someone who fought against the military – and if he is just d ‘honor the defenders of a society that has enslaved people.
Jeff South is Associate Professor of Journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University. Its views do not necessarily reflect those of the Military Times or its staff.